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Trans Oath Keepers member gets nearly a decade in prison for Jan. 6-related felonies

Jess Watkins collage

The mugshot of Oath Keeper Jessica Watkins is seen on the left, and on the right, she’s seen in military gear at the Capitol in a Sky News screengrab.

A transgender Oath Keepers member lured to the paramilitary group after consuming a “steady diet” of conspiracy monger Alex Jones received an 8 1/2-year sentence on Friday for Jan. 6-related felonies.

Tried in tandem with Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and three other people, Jessica Watkins elected to testify in her own defense at last year’s historic seditious conspiracy trial. She escaped conviction on the top count of her indictment, a statute often likened to a lighter analog to treason. But she racked up heavy felony convictions, including obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiring to prevent officers from discharging their duties, and civil disorder.

Federal prosecutors had asked the judge to hand down an 18-year sentence for her, but that outcome became unlikely after Rhodes’ received that identical prison term on Thursday, some seven years lower than the government requested. Watkins’ sentence was always expected to be far lighter than the Oath Keepers leader’s.

At her sentencing hearing on Friday, Watkins reportedly burst into tears, expressed regret, disavowed violence, and praised U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta’s impartiality, according to multiple media accounts.

“I was just another idiot running around,” Watkins told the judge, according to NBC. “Today, you’re going to hold this idiot responsible.”

Calling her one of the most “sympathetic” defendants on the Oath Keepers docket, Judge Mehta expressed hope that Watkins “continues to de-radicalize herself,” according to independent journalist Brandi Buchman.

When she took the witness stand in November, Watkins testified about her painful process of coming out about her gender identity. She said her parents rejected her, and in the military, a soldier who caught wind of her identity called her a homophobic slur. She later went “AWOL,” she said.

Stewing in InfoWars broadcasts, she said, she found community in the Oath Keepers.

“That’s probably how I found the Oath Keepers in the first place,” Watkins said on Nov. 16, referring to Jones’s show. “I watched it five, six hours a day.”

She reportedly reiterated her media diet again at her sentencing.

Immersed in the show’s paranoid style, Watkins said she feared an imagined plot by the United Nations and the Chinese government to infiltrate a Joe Biden administration to subjugate the population. Rhodes referred to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in encrypted chat messages as “Chicom puppets,” short for the Chinese Communist Party, trial evidence showed.

“I put two and two together that the United Nations was going to come here and go door-to-door with vaccines, and I didn’t want it,” Watkins said late last year. “I gave that a 50/50 shot.”

Despite disavowing those beliefs, Watkins testified that she still has “questions” about the 2020 presidential election. She also described her excitement at the group providing security for former President Donald Trump’s inner circle, including Michael Flynn and Roger Stone.

Prosecutors asked for a terrorism sentencing enhancement justified in part by her violent rhetoric on the day of the Capitol attack.

“We were in the thick of it,” Watkins boasted on Jan. 6. “Stormed the Capitol. Forced our way into the Senate and House. Got tear gassed and muscled the cops back like Spartans.”

Even after the riot, prosecutors said, Watkins remained “unbowed.”

“We’ve been organizing a bugout plan if the usurper is installed,” one of her text messages states.

Her attorney Jonathan Crisp argued that Watkins’ sense of regret was a slow dawning — and she admitted to a jury she was “absolutely proud” immediately after Jan. 6 — but her remorse is genuine.

After Watkins’ sentencing, her co-defendant and fellow Oath Keepers member Kenneth Harrelson will face his reckoning. Prosecutors have asked the judge to give him a 15-year term, but Harrelson’s eventual sentence also was far lower: four years.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."